When Antony was about seven years old he had an old Larmont single fin which he used to put on his bed with the fin off the end and stand on the board and pretend to surf.
He shared with us his secret to his achievements later in life
“On the wall in front of me was a poster of Gerry Lopez (I think it was Gerry) taken from a camera mounted on the board behind his feet looking out of a barrel, just like the famous Mike Coots shot. Anyway, I used to imagine it was me in the tube. This I would do for hours on end.
“And when I went to bed I would pray to God that I could be world Champion like Shaun Thompson.
“40 years later my prayers were answered. God works in mysterious ways.
Thank you, Lord, and everyone for supporting me; and thanks to Shaun for the inspiration.”
Focus Trust Believe, recognises Ant’s hard work, determination and the fact that he is an inspiration to so many, not only in his surfing but also in his everyday life.
We at FTB are honoured to have Ant on the team and part of the FTB family and know that he will be an incredible FTB ambassador.
Anthony Smyth Interview
Q. Who inspired you to start surfing and where did this love and passion start (town)?
A. From a very young age you would find me in the shore breaks of the lower KZN south coast, specifically the Glenmore, Port Edward area. As a toddler my parents would throw a Bentley belt on me and keep half an eye on me while I got tossed around in the shore break. So I guess surfing would have been the logical progression, but when I was 5 I had a life changing car accident which paralyzed my right arm.
My parents were told by the doctors that they should buy me a surfboard and encourage me to paddle with two arms, which speeded up my introduction to actual surfing. So I guess that no particular person inspired me to start surfing, rather it was surfing itself that inspired me.
Q. When you’re not in the water ripping or winning gold medals at the World Adaptive champs what keeps you busy?
A. I am a photographer. I shoot mainly people, specifically corporate portraiture. I also co-own a company which shoots school portraiture.
Q. I’m sure there have been some challenges you’ve had to face over the years. Who are the people that have been at your side through thick and thin and what role did they play in your extraordinary life?
A. My parents. I think that is important to say that my accident and subsequent disability was way more difficult for them than it ever was for me. I feel that this in itself should be a comfort to every parent who has a disabled child.
My Mom and Dad were wonderful. They never handled me with soft gloves, ever, thus setting and example to their friends, their friends children and my friends on how to be around me. A child who is treated equally will feel equal.
My Wife. I think she still hasn’t realized that there is something wrong with my arm! She doesn’t see it and never really has. She supports me, even if she thinks I am wrong – although she will definitely tell me! She also tenaciously introduced me to God.
Q. Please share with us any other incredible FTB moment that may have had a profound effect on you or your life?
A. When I was about 9 or 10 my parents gave me my first watch. We lived on a farm in Port Edward and there was a dam about a kilometer away where I would spend hours fishing and swimming. I would swim to the middle and try to touch the bottom. It was very scary for me because as you swam down it would get colder and darker and it felt like you were swimming straight into the claws of a giant dam monster!
Anyway, I had just got my watch and had run down to the dam after school to go swimming. When I got there I realized that I had my watch on and I couldn’t get it off without help, it was one of those very finicky metal clip straps and though I had tried I just had not managed to get it off.
So I had three choices. I could swim with it on which was not an option because it was not waterproof. I could take the long walk back home, a far walk for a child. Or I could find away to get the thing off.
It must have been an hour before I managed it, I tried pulling it over my wrist, I tried using sticks, to unhinge the clip, I tried leveraging it against trees but nothing worked. It was very frustrating.
Eventually I just sat down in the water with only my head and shoulders out of the water; I was just sitting there fiddling with the clip trying to unclip it with my mouth and tongue, and just like that, it came off.
Since that day I have never needed help to take a watch off. I learned a massive lesson in patience, determination and self belief that day and to this day I still mentally draw inspiration from that little boy by the dam when I experience difficulties, both big and small.
For me, that moment was a clear cut case of Focus, Trust, Believe.
Q. What is your mission in SA now regarding adaptive surfing?
A. To join the dots. There are quite a few aspects to adaptive surfing that are not working together, sometimes even working against each other. There is beach access for wheelchairs, specialized boards, wetsuits and prosthetic equipment, there are good coaches with a passion for disabled surfers and there are organizations doing a wonderful job.
My mission is to try to pull them all together, get everyone working with each other, sharing information and expertise for the collective interest of disabled surfers.
I think that if we can get that right all across the country and break down the barriers of entry, we will see a lot of disabled surfers enjoying the stoke of surfing..
You should not surf despite having a disability but rather you should start surfing because you have a disability.
As was the case with me.
Q. What is your dream or passion for adaptive surfing worldwide?
A. The dream is happening for me right now. Fernando Aguerre and his team at the ISA have started this all on a global level by hosting the first two world adaptive surfing championships. They have inspired us and many other countries to go home and get on with it.
There is a wonderful sense of a multi-country family within adaptive surfing. A wonderful culture of sharing information and stories that will inspire and challenge disabled people to start surfing. Both competitively and recreation-ally.
Thanks for taking me on-board!
Ant – March 2017